Even at 9:30 a.m., Amadeus’ voice still sparkles with life. “He only drinks chamomile, while I order a hundred cups of coffee,” his publicist says. “I don’t know how he holds up.”
This year marks Amadeus’ fourth as main host and artistic director of the Sanremo Music Festival. Italian broadcaster Rai already confirmed him for 2024, which was an easy decision: Under his direction, the show’s TV ratings skyrocketed, sometimes drawing more than 80% of Italian viewers.
The Italian music industry is dominated by songs that competed at Sanremo. The trend started with the previous artistic director, Claudio Baglioni, but Amadeus pushed it even more. Just one example: The No. 1 song of 2022 in Italy was “Brividi” by Mahmood and Blanco, which also won at Sanremo that year.
There were others. Colapesce and Dimartino were not well known when they participated in Sanremo 2020, and Amadeus was criticized for choosing them. Their song “Musica Leggerissima” nevertheless became a radio hit and kept going strong for the rest of the year.
Then there was Måneskin, which also participated in 2020. Back then, no one bet on the band. The members proved everyone wrong by winning Sanremo, winning Eurovision and becoming global stars.
Since then, the Italian music industry started growing again. In 2021, Italian music exports grew by 66% year over year, with revenues of 332 million euros ($356 million), according to FIMI/GfK. Italy became the 10th-largest music market in the world, up from No. 12 in 2020, as calculated by IFPI in its Global Music Report. Could Italy’s surge also be the result of Sanremo?
Billboard Italy spoke with Amadeus a few days after a private listening of the 28 songs competing at Sanremo. Critics have already published their reviews.
What song was understood the least, in your opinion?
I don’t like to judge someone else’s opinion. Everyone has the right to speak their mind. The [quality] level this year is really high, and everyone understood this. Songs need to be listened to many times. In a month from now, maybe, one will be able to say whether he or she really likes a song or doesn’t. That’s why I don’t like harsh criticism. You could rate a song eight out of 10 if it struck you on an emotional level. But if you rate it two, that’s a risk! I mean, there were so many songs that were criticized at first but then became hits on radio and streaming platforms — they even won the festival sometimes. I remember bad reviews received by Måneskin, Diodato, even Mahmood and Blanco.
This year, you decided to “promote” six talents of the Sanremo Giovani contest to the main competition. Why so many?
This world needs to trust the young, both in music and entertainment. People my age often reject their ideas, but they’re wrong. It’s us who need to adapt and enter their world, also because they spontaneously fall in love with the past. That’s why I want them to have their space. I often mention Tananai as an example. Last year, many people criticized his song and my choice to have him at Sanremo. But despite finishing last, over the course of one year his popularity grew exponentially — everyone can see that. So, we must give the young their time. I’m sure that the six artists I’m bringing to Sanremo 2023 will have a future. It’s just like soccer: You can’t train the boys and then keep them in the bleachers. They must play and have the chance to do wrong. It’s the only way to find the real champions.
They say that it’s impossible to be truly passionate about new music after your twenties, but you’re a living example of the opposite. Don’t you ever stop listening to new releases?
Never. Because of my job, I’m inclined to listen to a bit of everything, even if it doesn’t belong to my generation. Also, my children, who are 25 and 14 years old, help me understand why a singer is liked or not. But music can make you relive your memories, at any age. Everyone should listen to it.
Everyone can see that you don’t select the lineup based on label representation: Like, six artists from Universal, five from Sony, four from Warner, and so on.
Absolutely not. Sometimes a label is not represented at all, and they complain about it.
Every artist told me that they really don’t know whether they are participating or not until the last minute.
That’s right. Not even their labels [know].
Rumor has it that before announcing the lineup, you stay at home for three days with your wife and your 14-year-old son and then decide.
It’s not exactly like that. I’m very reserved and jealous about the songs they propose to me. To put it simply, if I made others listen to them, even people from my own team, I would be too affected by their judgment. I just need to relax over the last three days. No one else knows the songs.
Not even Giovanna and José (Amadeus’ wife and son)?
Maybe they are the only ones, together with my trusted writer Massimo Martelli. But not even he knows everything, because I really seek solitude the last few days. My wife and son hear the songs for a simple reason: I play them on speakers. Clearly, I’m interested in their opinion to better understand a woman’s and a young boy’s points of view. They are usually right. But I try not to get conditioned too much.
Do you look for the song that could impress the most onstage or for the one that could work better on streaming and radio?
Precisely the second case. To me, the stage dimension is relative. If they tell me, “Look, this band kicks [butt] in concert,” that doesn’t modify my judgment at all, if I don’t like the song. I try not to choose based on my personal taste only. A song — of any type, be it a ballad or up tempo — has to move me. I try to imagine its future. That’s why I like to select the songs when I’m driving. If they make me want to listen to them again, that’s it. But sometimes they can tire you.
Rap doesn’t have much representation this year, except Lazza and Madame. Didn’t successful artists such as Rondodasosa, Vale Pain, Paky, Rhove apply? Would you have called them?
No, they didn’t. I would have liked to have them. They are cool and I love rap. Even if he represents a different shade of it, I’m happy to have [Articolo 31 vocalist] J-Ax. I invited him for past editions, but he didn’t have a project suitable for Sanremo.
What decision of yours had the strongest impact internationally, in your opinion? Choosing Måneskin is the first thing that comes to my mind.
Måneskin’s formula was just perfect. They became a global success precisely with the song someone criticized. But I chose it without asking for any modification, and now they are a band with unprecedented [awards and achievements]. Sometimes I’m glad to go against the trend. Even Diodato’s victory at my first Sanremo [in 2020] was kind of unexpected. He was appreciated but unknown to many.
And we all know what happened next. Not to mention Dargen D’Amico: He was followed by a niche [audience, but] now even my 80-year-old mother knows him.
Can we say that Sanremo’s new direction contributed to the resurgence of the Italian music industry on a global scale?
That’s the goal of the festival. It was certainly the case 40 or 50 years ago, when our music was exported internationally and people from abroad wanted to come here to sing in Italian. The important thing is that Sanremo remains open to any genre and any target. It must liberate itself from preset schemes. One should consider the quality of the song, regardless of the artist, the label, the genre. That’s the only way to reach international success. But we still have a lot to do. That’s why I want three stages, because I want everyone to be present at Sanremo. When we launched the stage in Piazza Colombo, many people criticized it at first, but it was a huge success, like it will be this year, too. And if I bring Guè on the ship (the popular Italian rapper will perform on a Costa Crociere cruise ship anchored in front of Sanremo), that’s because I want him to have such a good time that he joins the competition next year.
You managed to bring to the festival many big names that — until recent years — would have performed only as guests. For example, Marco Mengoni and Giorgia.
It’s important to be part of the competition. They understood that Sanremo has changed and that they’ll have much more relevancy in that role. Clearly, we’ll celebrate the careers of our guest artists, such as Al Bano’s or Pooh’s. That’s maybe for a more mature audience, but I’m not so sure. My daughter, for example, is really curious to see these tributes.
Did you ever regret inviting someone?
No, I don’t. The artists who joined the competition in recent years allowed me to create festivals of the highest level. There are still many artists I’d like to include.
Like whom, for example? Tiziano Ferro, maybe?
They are too many. If Tiziano Ferro had a song to present, I’d be happy to listen to it. But my list would be endless. The big artists of Italian music that I’d love to have at Sanremo are so many, and it would be unfair to name just a few of them.